'Water we do about the river?' An Integrated Approach to Understanding Water Quality in the Waikaka Stream, Southland, New Zealand
Water quality causes are a highly contested issue in New Zealand, with rivers and streams struggling with the effects of intensive pastoral agriculture. The Waikaka Stream in Southland is an example of a catchment that currently does not meet local water quality standards, due to ‘very poor’ water quality. Management of freshwater has changed significantly over time in New Zealand, but has typically been the responsibility of regional authorities, carried out with a reliance on technical and scientific information, often with a disregard for the socio-political dimensions of freshwater management. Consequently, in recent years communities in Southland have mobilised to form catchment management groups, offering an alternate bottom-up management regime. It is unknown how these community management groups fit into the wider environmental management structure in New Zealand, or how they can be best directed to contribute to the improvement of New Zealand waterways, including the Waikaka Stream. The aim of this study was to evaluate the water quality of the Waikaka Stream and analyse community responses to their perceived water quality problem. A socio-hydrology lens was employed to elucidate how the measured data compared to water quality perceptions. A mixed methodological approach used a 12-month data set with a monthly water sampling frequency, and semi-structured interviews with farmers in the Waikaka Catchment. Quantitative and qualitative results were integrated in the interpretation phase, to understand the disconnect between physical water quality parameters and community perceptions of the Waikaka Stream. The Waikaka Stream water quality was highly variable across the catchment, indicating that the current single monitoring site is not appropriate to be fully representative. Suspended sediment concentrations exceeded national guidelines across the entire catchment, with site averages ranging from 4.0 mg L-1 to 10.8 mg L-1. E. coli thresholds were exceeded at six sites, ranging from 126 CFU/100ml to a maximum of 1414 CFU/100ml. Total nitrogen ranged from 0.3 ppm to 3.0 ppm, while total phosphorus measured between 11.9 ppb and 242.6 ppb. The water quality results showing exceedance of national guidelines, which contradicted farmer perspectives of ‘good’ water quality, highlighting the hidden risk of water quality. This discord creates issues for freshwater management, as it introduces distrust between farmers and the regulating regional government. The power dynamics between stakeholders can further complicate the collaborative management process and limit the implementation of improved management strategies. The formation of the Waikaka Stream Catchment Group indicates that farmers and local community members are seeking collaborative action to improve freshwater health. This study demonstrates that catchment groups deliver an opportunity for social learning, and a format by which local knowledge can be better included in management, to work towards the principles of Integrated Catchment Management (ICM). Catchment groups provide a link between individual farmers and regional government, therefore building trust for future collaborative management.
Advisor: Mager, Sarah; Connelly, Sean
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; Freshwater; water quality; catchment management; community management
Research Type: Thesis